Sunday, August 12, 2012

Our last event of the Games

So, yesterday we headed back to the Olympic Park for our last event of London 2012, the bronze match in the women's handball, between Spain and South Korea.
The Spanish fans were out in force, which is probably why the Koreans were handing out those inflatable clapping sticks they're so fond of...
It was an incredibly close match, level at half time, level at full time, level after overtime and then level until about a minute before the end of "double overtime", after which it would've gone to penalties.
But, partly thanks to some great saves from the Spanish goalkeeper (they had one who just came on for any penalties - and saved four out of five!), the Spanish eventually ran out winners, 31-29.
Given that the Koreans were overwhelming favourites to win and that it had been such a titanic struggle, the Spanish were pretty darned happy about getting their bronze!
After that, it was a short walk over to the Park Live part of the Olympic Park, where the big screens are, to watch Mo Farrah go for his double gold in the 5000m (and get a tourist pic of Robin with the Olympic rings).
Here's the crowd, just before Mo's race...
And here they are, watching it...

Definitely one of the most memorable moments of an amazing two weeks. Then we popped for some (overpriced but quite tasty) Thai food and came back to the big screens to watch the men's 4 x 100m relay.
Britain really *has* been quite great these last couple of weeks. Anyway, as soon as the relay was over, we hotfooted it back to the station, past the stadium, to beat the crowds. Inside the stadium, at this very moment, Usain and his Jamaican teammates were celebrating their world record run. You could hear the roar.
This afternoon, I'm off to Hyde Park to watch the closing ceremony show by Blur, New Order and the Specials. Given that those first two are among my very favourite bands and that they're showing the closing ceremony itself on the big screens, it should be a fine way to round off this incredible time.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mo wins the 5000m

Just back from the Olympic Park. Here's how the crowd watching the big screens reacted to Mo Farah winning the 5000m. This is what utter jubilation looks like.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ten events down, one to go...

So, after going to basketball, table tennis, archery, beach volley, badminton, water polo, volleyball, athletics, taekwondo and football*, tomorrow is our last event: handball (just as it was in Athens). Really looking forward to that. But already starting to feel a wee bit sad that'll it'll soon be all over. It's been such a wonderful couple of weeks. And it'd be hard to argue that London hasn't done itself proud.

* Plus, of course, Robin went to the canoe sprint too.

A humdinger of a women's football final

Last night, I headed to Wembley Stadium to watch the women's football final between Japan and USA - who'd contested last year's World Cup final, which Japan won on penalties.

The view you see when you emerge from Wembley Park tube station really must be as exciting as that from any station in the world...

Then you have the tradition walk down Wembley Way - or Olympic Way as it's officially known, because it led to the old stadium which was the main venue for the 1948 Olympics (the walkway was apparently built by German prisoners of war).

I'd love to know where the scarf factories are where they can knock up these scarves so quickly (the semi finals were only the other day)

With USA having made it to every women's football final since it was introduced to the Olympics, an awful lot of Americans had clearly taken a chance and bought tickets. There were stars and stripes everywhere, and "USA!" was booming out around the stadium, which was crammed with more than 80,000 people. There were lots of Japan fans too. And a great atmosphere.

Wembley did look nice with all its London 2012 decor.

Probably the best water bottle filling facility I've seen at any 2012 venue - it was the first aid office, with a line of medical staff passing the bottles down and filling them from the tap. That's pretty indicative of the kind of the unexpectedly helpful spirit that's characterised these Games.

As I say, it was pretty packed in there. A record for a women's football match in this country, in fact.

The game itself was a real humdinger - the two teams were very evenly matched, with both hitting the woodwork and both playing some terrific football. In the end USA won 2-1, but Japan (who I was cheering for) fought them close right to the end.

I'll leave you with a photo of my £5.70 half-time Lincolnshire sausage.
Pricey, but tasty.

Only one more event to go - the handball tomorrow (unless I can *finally* win my battle to get some hockey tickets). Can't believe it's almost over. What an amazing couple of weeks.

Watching the 200m at Wembley

I was at Wembley Stadium for the terrific women's football final last night (more of which later), but one of the most memorable moments came just after half time, when a big crowd of people decided to stay in the concourse and watch the 200m on the TV. The video above shows what happened.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

1,500 visits!

We've just gone past 1,500 visits to this blog since the Olympics began. Which is a lot more than I was expecting for a blog I hadn't touched for four years. Thanks to everyone reading. Do feel free to say hello in the comments (you don't need to register or anything). 

Taekwondo - more exciting than you'd imagine

Yesterday it was back to the Excel to see Taekwondo after I managed to bag a £20 seat from the ticket site over the weekend. If you're not sure what people do in Taekwondo, here's the one-word instruction manual...

They actually have electronic sensors on their feet to help them judge whether they've kicked the body (the pads have sensors too). All quite clever. The arena was packed, with big groups of fans from various countries (Spain and Thailand probably had the most). Actually, I think there were 7 different countries from three continents in the two lots of semi finals I saw. 

The next photo shows some of the kicking as it happened. I saw the quarter and semi finals across two weights, one men's and one women's. The Spanish woman in this pic made it through to the final, as did the Spanish chap I saw. He went on to win his final, so they bagged a gold and a silver in one night. Obviously most Brits won't know about that, because (quite naturally) you only tend to hear when you're own country has done well. 

But for Spain - who'd only won one gold so far this Olympics - it was obviously a HUGE deal to have so much success in one venue. That's the thing with the Olympics - there are massive stories happening all the time, but they're only really of interest to particular countries. Like Italy knocking reigning champs USA out of the men's volleyball last night in the 1/8 round. Huge shock. But doubt too many Brits know about it. Anyway, here's that kick...

The matches actually turned out to be a lot more exciting than I expected. There were two which ended up as a tie after the three periods (of 2 minutes), at which point they went to "Golden Point", ie the next person to score wins. And the use of video replays to check whether a score should've counted also adds to the drama. But the best match was the Spanish woman who was 9-4 down in her semi-final with a Thai with about 45 seconds to go and came back to win 10-9 following an amazing late flurry of scoring points. The noise in there at that point was incredible. And the Thai woman sitting next to me had tears of disappointment streaming down her face. 

It did take a while to work out what/how they were scoring, but after a couple of hours, you do really get into it (helped by one of the best commentaries on the commentary radio that I've had).  It's the first time I've seen Taekwondo at either Olympics I've been to, and it was definitely up there with some of the most enjoyable sports to watch. 

Women's football final tonight. Japan vs USA. 90,000 sell out at Wembley. Very much looking forward to it. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The flowers in the Olympic Park...

... are very pretty.

A night in the Olympic Stadium

Last night was perhaps our most awaited night of the Games - an evening session watching the athletics in the wonderful Olympic Stadium. We got to the Park just in time to see Victoria Pendleton not quite winning the gold in the sprint. There were HUGE crowds watching the big screens (you couldn't actually get into the big screen park to watch them - this was outside). You can also see the velodrome itself to the left of the big screen...

 And then to the stadium, listening to Chris Hoy win his cycling gold on the radio on the way (I'm not always Five Live's greatest fan, but they've been great at these Games).

Here we are inside what was, not surprisingly, a packed stadium. The roar any time a Brit was involved was pretty incredible to hear.

We saw some great events - 200m women's qualifying, 800m men's qualifying (in which a Brit had an astonishing finish to get through), high jump final (a Brit got bronze, a rock n roll Russian took gold), 100m women's hurdles semis and final (won by an Australian with an Olympic record), discus final (won by a German who celebrated by ripping his shirt off then running down the home straight doing the hurdles) and the 1500m final (won by an Algerian).

This French athlete made a false start in the 100m hurdles semi-final and was thus automatically disqualified. Poor woman. She looked devastated.

You can see the Olympic flame under the giant TV on this one...

We had such a fun night. Even the long, soggy queue to get the javelin train back to St Pancras couldn't dampen spirits.

Taekwondo today...

Volleyball at Earls Court

Here's Robin at one of the best 2012 venues I've been to - Earls Court, where I watched a volleyball double header on Monday night. Earls Court has been around for a *long* time (Buffallo Bill performed there back in the day!), so it's well set up for this sort of thing. And you can really feel that the sport has had to play catch-up with beach volleyball in the last few years, making much more effort with crowd participation and inter-match entertainment/music. 

We saw two men's games - the very capable USA beat Tunisia and then Brazil overcame Germany in a close game (which didn't finish until well after 11pm). I sat next to a very pleasant Bulgarian couple, who were very into volleyball. Bulgaria topped the other group and will play Germany next. I'll definitely be rooting for them.   

Robin at the canoeing

Robin has now been to more London 2012 events than I have, as my mum took him to the canoe/kayak sprints at Eton Dorney yesterday. Apparently it was all organised like clockwork - everything at these Games really has been - and a fine time was had by all. As at all the events I've been to, the Brits were supporting the underdog if there wasn't a GBR competitor, which in this case meant cheering madly for whoever was in last place. Sounds fun.

Robin also had his first go on the official Park and Ride. Not particularly cheap - £12 + booking fee - but, again, very well organised. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The London 2012 Commentary Radio

UPDATE:  Having now taken the commentary radio to a bunch of events, thought I'd post a wee update to say that it's actually turned out to be a bit disappointing. At several events, the "commentary" consists only of what you can hear being announced over the PA anyway. So not really commentary at all. Only a couple of events have had actual commentary which other spectators wouldn't be able to hear, during the match. So far, the breakdown looks like this...

PROPER COMMENTARY: Badminton, Table tennis (and even the table tennis commentary abruptly finished midway into the session on Sunday)
NO COMMENTARY: Water polo, archery, volleyball, beach volley

Suddenly, that tenner doesn't seem quite so worthwhile, even with all the events I'm seeing. Really don't understand why they've bothered to have the technology in place (you can hear PA announcements at all venues) but not got a commentator.


If you're going to more than a couple of London 2012 events, then this clever commentary radio thing is probably worth a go. Head to one of the programme seller booths and, for £10, you get a wee radio which clips onto your ear and gives you access to commentary during the event. 

That was particularly worthwhile at the table tennis where you got constant, informed commentary (albeit from a commentator with an extremely unfortunate habit of referring to the Japanese competitor as "the Jap", to the obvious discomfort of those around me with an earpiece). At the archery, though, the commentary in the earpiece actually just mirrored the announcements coming over the PA, which made is rather less useful. 

Still, it should be really handy at the Olympic Stadium, as it can be quite tricky to follow all the various track and field things which happen concurrently. And, once the Games are over, you can press a couple of buttons and it works as an FM radio.

Robin and the Olympic torch

At the volleyball at Earls Court last night, Robin was lucky enough to sit in an actual Olympic torch which was used during the astonishingly popular relay around the UK (we were popping to the loo during the first match and there was no longer a queue to pose with it, so it seemed daft not to).

Excitement and disappointment at the water polo

So, we followed our visit to the Temple of Tat yesterday with a visit to the water polo arena to cheer for Greece in their crucial group match against Australia - with whichever side won qualifying for the knock out rounds. Here's the venue...
And here's what the view looks like from near the top on the left side...
And here's the Greek team coming on. Sadly, despite having more shots than the Australians, they couldn't make the most of the chances, and ended up losing easily. A real pity. But it was great to see our kids cheering so proudly for Greece (my wife is Greek) and lovely for their grandparents in Athens to see us on the TV waving our flag each time our boys scored. Just wish Greece could've scored a few more...

Monday, August 06, 2012

A visit to the Olympic Temple of Tat

We were back in the Olympic Park this morning, for the water polo. As the transport is running *so* smoothly during these Games, we got there quite early. So we thought we'd go for a potter in the Temple of Tat that is the London 2012 Megastore. It's HUGE...

As is "Team GB's golden girl" Jessica Ennis (who's so ripped with muscles, she didn't even notice Robin perching on her arm)

There are an awful lot of Wenlocks available. If the people who designed Wenlock could see how OBSESSED my little boys are with him, I would imagine they'd be quite happy. 

Our elder boy wants one of these £15 golden Wenlocks more than anything (and the fact they're now giving a giant one to each athletics gold medalist isn't exactly helping to reduce his desire). And you can only buy them from venues. Hoping that by the time the Paralympics start they'll have reduced the bucket loads of them down to a tenner or something.

While I was taking this next photo, I saw a succession of people coming up saying:
"Ooh, these are nice. What?! £65?!!! Are they mad???!!!!"

This one shows two giant Wenlocks in an Olympic Mini with Robin on the windscreen, obviously. 

And you should've seen the queues at the checkouts...